Athletics must make a move.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Flags fly forever.
We hear this axiom repeated often. You could call it the baseball version of Al Davis' famous battle cry, "Just win, baby!" Championships endure, we're told. Teams on the brink of contention should always push their chips to the center of the table, they say.
But raising a flag is difficult. And so some teams are content to be merely good enough to contend -- especially when that roster is cost-efficient.
For a long time, the Oakland Athletics have been such a club. But this year is different. This year, it seems, Oakland should go for the jugular.
Here is a list of the players the A's have acquired in the week leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline the past five years: Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson, Brett Wallace, Brandon Allen, Jordan Norberto, George Kottaras and Alberto Callaspo. You can be excused if any of those names feel unfamiliar.
The time has come for Oakland to take a different approach. As of June 23, the A's sit comfortably atop the American League West and have the best record in baseball. Armed with their best roster in years, the A's have incentive to pursue a big move and make a run to the pennant as likely as possible.
Under the two-team wild-card system, teams can be hesitant to make a big trade. If they don't win their division, they may have mortgaged their future for just one game.
But the A's can't feel weighed down by such concern. Oakland is the only team with odds better than 90 percent to reach the playoffs (per FanGraphs' playoff odds) and one of two teams with 75 percent or better odds to win their division. They are one of two teams with at least a five-game lead in their division. While no lead is ever safe, Oakland can feel reasonably confident that it will be playing in October. If the A's strengthened a few of the roster's weaker areas, they could feel even more confident.
Position wRC+ Rank
C 143 2
1B 89 23
2B 67 25
SS 90 14
3B 138 1
RF 85 22
CF 117 8
LF 157 1
DH 108 10 (AL only)
Areas to improve
I say weaker areas because the team doesn't have a whole lot of actual weaknesses. The biggest weakness, as you can see in the chart to the right, is at second base. It's the only position where the A's are more than 15 percent below average according to wRC+. Neither Eric Sogard nor Nick Punto should be starting on a team of this caliber. Sogard actually shouldn't be starting for any team, as his defense is not good enough to make up for an atrocious 46 wRC+ -- the second-lowest mark in the game among the 258 players with at least 150 plate appearances this year.
Luckily, there should be a number of second basemen on the market. Ben Zobrist and Luis Valbuena are likely available. As we approach the trading deadline, Chase Utley and Daniel Murphy, among others, might also appear on the block.
The team could also go for the grand slam and try to acquire Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. A few weeks ago, the Rockies looked promising. On May 20, they were 26-20 and just two games back of the San Francisco Giants for the National League West lead. But they have been dreadful ever since and have likely exited the playoff hunt.
Billy Beane and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd have been frequent trade partners over the years, the Carlos Gonzalez trade being just one example. If Beane were to dangle shortstop prospect Addison Russell and a bunch (read: at least five) of lower-level prospects, perhaps the Rockies could be talked into trading their star. It's an incredibly unlikely scenario -- as the A's have never had a contract the size of Tulo's deal -- but if anyone could pull it off, it's Beane, who has less than $13 million committed to the 2015 payroll. In such a scenario, Jed Lowrie would slide over to second and solve that issue.
While first base might seem like a problem area as well, the A's firmed up at first with the acquisition of Kyle Blanks, who is the perfect complement to Brandon Moss in a platoon. Moss has been pulled into right field this month with OF Josh Reddick on the disabled list, leaving first base in less capable hands. Reddick could return the lineup as early as Tuesday. Once he does, the A's should be solid at the corners.
But Reddick's return won't cure all ills. In fact, the injured right fielder represents the other problem spot for the offense.
No one can question Reddick's stellar defense, but with Craig Gentry in tow, Reddick needs to do more with the bat and hasn't thus far. However, he has contributed in the past at a great rate. Most important, he has two relatively cheap years left in arbitration. As such, he represents a great trade chip.
The Twins aren't out of the playoff chase by any means, but given that Josh Willingham is set for free agency after this season, perhaps they could be persuaded into a Reddick-Willingham swap. A Reddick-Byron Buxton-Oswaldo Arcia outfield could be pretty sexy next season for Minnesota, and with Willingham hitting 68 points better than Reddick in wRC+, such a deal could be win-win for the A's.
Finally, the A's probably need another starter. It's a lesser priority than improving the offense, and given that the team has fewer tradable assets than usual, it probably won't be in the market for David Price or Jeff Samardzija.
Fortunately, Oakland doesn't have to aim so high. Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz have all posted xFIPs of 3.61 or better and are all a solid bet to march on at the same pace. Tommy Milone and Dan Straily, however, have posted xFIPs of 4.59 and 4.42, respectively. Both marks are well below the 3.95 AL average. Milone's mark is actually fifth worst out of 95 qualified pitchers, so finding a superior option shouldn't be too difficult.
As it stands, the A's will be an imposing foe come October. But the team and GM that made Moneyball famous now have their best chance to cash in. Securing upgrades at one or more positions, particularly second base, could put Oakland in a position to stomp through the postseason and raise a World Series flag for the first time in 25 years.
Five GM candidates for San Diego.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The San Diego Padres have begun the process of replacing general manager Josh Byrnes, who was fired on Sunday, with insiders saying that in all likelihood the hiring will come outside of the organization.
This despite the fact the Padres have several in-house candidates led by assistant GMs A.J. Hinch, Chad MacDonald, and Fred Uhlman Jr., as well as senior VP of baseball operations Omar Minaya and VP of player development Randy Smith, both of whom are former GMs. However, the announcement that Hinch, Uhlman and Minaya would share the GM duties in the interim is a sign that they don’t have an in-house candidate they want to hand the reins to.
In fact, it is believed that the Padres' ownership group would prefer to hire a first-time GM with vision, ideally an up-and-coming exec from a successful organization. Here are five names that fit that mold.
1. Thad Levine, assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Levine is widely considered a GM-in-waiting within the industry, someone who has all the tools needed to be a great GM. He has strong administrative, evaluative, leadership, statistical and communication skills. He understands the importance of surrounding yourself with the best minds available, is detail oriented, organized and systematic.
He has been an AGM for the Rangers, and exhibits the kind of character and professionalism that reminds some of St. Louis GM John Mozeliak.
2. David Forst, assistant GM, Oakland Athletics
Forst is the happiest AGM in baseball, teaming up with GM Billy Beane to give Oakland what might be the smartest front office in the game. He has had chances to become a GM elsewhere in the past, but he and his family love the Bay area and he has such a great working relationship with Beane that getting promoted or becoming a GM with another organization has just never been a priority for him.
That said, he will become a GM at some point, either with the A's or elsewhere, and the small-market Padres will surely appreciate his success in Oakland on a modest budget. At some point some team will give Forst an offer he can't refuse, and perhaps it will be the Padres.
3. Jason McLeod, VP of player development & amateur scouting, Chicago Cubs
He is considered one of the best evaluators in the business, particularly as it applies to hitters, and that could be huge in San Diego, as the Padres have struggled to develop bats who can thrive in spacious Petco Park.
McLeod has even worked in San Diego before, having served under previous GM Jed Hoyer before following him to Chicago where they teamed back up with Theo Epstein after the trio helped build a World Series winner in Boston. McLeod worked his way up from area scout, so he has a deep understanding of all aspects of player development, and has been instrumental in the drafting or signing of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, three of the best prospects in the game.
A return to the Padres could only happen if McLedo is offered the GM position, a job that he's more than ready for.
4. Al Avila, assistant general manager, Detroit Tigers
He has spent 22 season in professional baseball and is currently in his 12th with the Tigers after being named to his current position back on April 15, 2002. He has worked closely and been trained by GM Dave Dombrowski one of the most highly regarded execs in the game.
Avila worked with Dombrowski back in his days with the Marlins, and was instrumental in the signing of Miguel Cabrera as an amateur, and Avila helped swing a trade for Miggy while working in Detroit. He's a little older than the three candidates mentioned above, but his track record with a successful organization suggests he's ready for the opportunity.
5. Damon Oppenheimer, director of amateur scouting, New York Yankees
Oppenheimer is Southern California native whose ties to the Padres run deep: His mother was their director of minor league operations and he was even a peanut vendor at Jack Murphy Stadium as a teenager. Additionally, he served an area scout for the Padres early in his career before moving over to the Yankees in 1993.
He gradually worked his way up to become an integral member of GM Brian Cashman's staff. So integral, in fact, that the Arizona Diamondbacks requested permission to interview Oppenheimer for their GM opening after the 2010 season but were denied. I don't get the sense that Cashman would stand in Oppenheimer's way this time, though, when you consider his connection to the Padres.
Parity killing off the seller's market.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The volume of calls and text messages between general managers is growing as teams look to improve through trades, through adding help from outside of the organization.
But as has been noted many times since Major League Baseball expanded its playoff field from eight to 10, the extra wild-card team reduces the field of potential sellers, because more teams have hope and reason to wait to break up their teams.
There is another factor depressing the trade market as well, according to some executives who have taken the pulse of rival evaluators: parity.
The Oakland Athletics have been a great team this season, with the best record in the majors at 44-28 and a run differential of plus-132. The Giants own the second-best run differential -- 85 runs less, at plus-47. Twenty-six of the 30 teams have run differentials ranging between the Giants' plus-47 and the minus-40 of the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.
Oh, sure, you could go out and make an aggressive trade and pay what are perceived to be extremely high asking prices for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel, and inevitably, teams will do that. But given the relative mediocrity of the teams in 2014, some executives privately ask the question: Is the addition of a player really going to make that much of a difference, given how deeply flawed most teams are?
General managers will weigh the cost/benefit equation of adding someone such as Samardzija or David Price, and for now, some are saying that it might make more business sense to wait to see if their current teams can play better, or if internal adjustments would be more effective.
The Kansas City Royals are a great example of this.
Three weeks ago, there was speculation that manager Ned Yost and/or GM Dayton Moore might be in jeopardy of being fired. Now, the Royals have zoomed into first place with essentially the same cast of players because they're playing better and because the Tigers have regressed. The Dodgers have made up a ton of ground in the standings in just a week because the Giants started losing.
[+] EnlargeDaniel Murphy
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Daniel Murphy could be a player the Mets look to move.
The Yankees could use a starting pitcher, undoubtedly, and they may well land someone before the deadline. But because Toronto is much less than a super team, New York sits just 2.5 games out of first place -- and Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran really haven't performed as expected. The Red Sox have been shocking in their struggles, and yet they're just four games out in the wild-card race. They have improved the back end of their rotation with the performances of Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, and they are weeding through their internal options; it's hardly out of the realm of possibility that they could keep the current cast and get better results.
Think of MLB as a marathon. Oakland is way out in front of the pack right now, and behind them is a pack of 23 to 25 teams, at the 11th mile. And no one else in the pack appears ready to break away.
They can wait. The trade market can wait.
Parity could be a plus for the Yankees, writes Tyler Kepner. Brian Cashman is ready to deal, writes John Harper.
Among possible sellers:
1. The Mets should deal now, writes Joel Sherman. Daniel Murphy would have some value.
2. Samardzija is no closer to signing with the Cubs.
3. It’s time for the Rays to start selling, writes Gary Shelton.
4. The Rangers are buried deeper in the AL West after their latest loss.
The reaction of A.J. Ellis at the moment Clayton Kershaw finished his no-hitter says it all: He takes a moment to set down his helmet and mask before moving to congratulate Kershaw. Ellis and the Dodgers have been expecting this. It seemed inevitable that Kershaw would pitch a no-hitter, given his effort and his talent and his preparation, detailed in this piece from March.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Kershaw threw a no-nitter:
1. Fourteen of Kershaw's 15 strikeouts came with his breaking pitches. That's two more than any other pitcher in any start since 2009.
2. Thirteen of Kershaw's strikeouts came in five pitches or fewer, one shy of the most by any pitcher since 2009.
3. Early in the count (0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 1-1), Kershaw threw his fastball a season-high 72 percent of the time. In all other counts, he threw it 28 percent of the time, his second-lowest percentage of the season.
4. Kershaw went to only one 2-0 count and only one three-ball count.
5. He threw 19 sliders out of the zone and the Rockies chased on 14 of them (74 percent). That's the second-highest chase percentage against his slider in any start in which he threw at least 20 total. Overall, he had 15 K's, nine ground outs, and three fly outs.
The Rockies had no answers. The Dodgers celebrated with Kershaw. Hanley Ramirez didn’t make a excuse about his error.
• You knew it was going to be another bad day for the Tigers when a first-inning ground ball skipped off the corner of second base and caromed sideways, allowing the Royals' first run to score.
Jeremy Guthrie was dominant, as Andy McCullough writes. How Guthrie won:
1. He got the Tigers to chase 32 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, his second-highest rate this season.
2. He kept hitters off balance: The Tigers were 1-for-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending in a fastball, and 1-for-6 in at-bats ending in a changeup.
3. He put hitters away: Detroit went 0-for-14 in at-bats that reached two strikes.
Right now, the Tigers stink, writes Drew Sharp.
• On Wednesday’s podcast, Tim Kurkjian and Jason Beck discussed the Tigers' issues, and we spoke with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who told a story about Tony Gwynn. On Tuesday’s podcast, Jayson Stark and I reminisced about Tony and who he was.
• Anibal Sanchez has become the stopper for the Tigers.
• I hope Major League Baseball issues a statement detailing exactly why this play involving Russell Martin was reversed, and what it is he needed to do differently. I have not seen a play generate more frustration on Twitter, as baseball fans tried to figure out what happened. The folks in uniform felt the same way.
"Russell tagged the plate and got out of the way," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The runner slid cleanly across the plate: He wasn't obstructed."
During the game, Hurdle called MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre to discuss the ruling from New York. "We're still working our way through finding out what is and what isn't obstruction," Hurdle said.
• The Reds are on a roll: Eight wins in 11 games, and they got another multihit game from Billy Hamilton, who just keeps getting better and better.
• Kevin Gausman continues to look like someone who could be a difference-maker in the AL East race: he shut down the Rays, as Eduardo Encina writes.
Dings and dents
1. Michael Brantley could be back Saturday.
2. Matt Wieters says Tommy John surgery was inevitable. Yes.
3. A couple of Blue Jays got hurt.
4. Glen Perkins is hurting.
5. Adam Wainwright is ready to go.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. There are no shortcuts in rebuilding the Phillies.
2. The Red Sox cut Grady Sizemore, and if Sizemore doesn’t find a better opportunity elsewhere, they are open to discussing a spot for him in their minor league system, to continue his comeback. The cut of Sizemore was overdue, writes Steve Buckley.
3. Brandon Workman's suspension was upheld.
4. Anthony Gose was sent to the minors.
5. Kris Bryant was promoted.
1. The Nationals rallied.
2. A struggling Brian McCann had a big night.
3. The Red Sox won in dramatic fashion.
4. The Twins have five straight losses.
5. The Brewers couldn't finish it off.
6. Jake Arrieta was tremendous.
7. The problems continue for the Braves.
8. The Giants' lead continues to shrink.
9. The Mariners wasted another strong start by Felix Hernandez, as Ryan Divish writes.
• The numbers don’t add up for the Phillies.
• Bartolo Colon had his first hit in a decade.
• Andrew Heaney is set for his debut.
• Evan Gattis extended his hitting streak.
• The bullpen woes are mounting for the Pirates.
• From the Elias Sports Bureau: Gregory Polanco hit safely in his eighth straight game to start his career, tying Spencer Adams in 1923 for the longest hitting streak from the start of a career in Pirates history.
• The Reds need more bullpen reliability.
• The Cardinals are a little surprised by the Brewers' effort to get votes for Jonathan Lucroy.
• Kirk Gibson talked about the plunking.
• The Blue Jays continue to struggle in New York.
• Jeremy Hellickson needs to increase his innings.
• Jose Abreu clubbed his 20th homer.
• Omar Infante is really hot at the plate.
• The Indians' rotation was shaken up by a rainout.
• Ron Washington admires his former team in Oakland.
• Sean Doolittle of the Athletics had two strikeouts in his save against the Rangers. He now has 48 strikeouts and one walk on the season. From Elias: Doolittle is the first pitcher in MLB's modern era (since 1900) to record at least 45 strikeouts in a season prior to issuing his second walk.
• Derek Norris has All-Star credentials.
• Scott Feldman had a good start, but the Astros lost.
• The Angels' use of Raul Ibanez is drawing criticism.
• Brad Ausmus apologized for something he said.
• The granddaughter of George Steinbrenner is working to bring a musical to Broadway.
• The Padres honored Tony Gwynn.
• Richard Durrett was as helpful and as good and as nice a person as you would hope to meet in your lifetime; his death is just stunning, and is heartbreaking.
The Rangers are doing something really great on behalf of his family. Jon Daniels wants people to record Durrett's work.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Angels' bullpen struggles continue.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
An evaluator mentioned to me earlier this week that the Angels' bullpen is the worst he has seen on that team in 20 years. I disagree, but his point was that the team lacks relievers who consistently throw strikes and get ahead in the count.
His words could not have been seemed more prophetic. On Thursday, Cam Bedrosian and Ernesto Frieri kept throwing noncompetitive pitches -- so far out of the strike zone that hitters aren't even tempted to swing -- until they were backed into a corner. Then, with a 1-2 count and the bases loaded, Nick Swisher clubbed a walk-off grand slam.
The Angels rank 25th in bullpen ERA, just ahead of the Rockies and the Blue Jays, despite the fact that the team's relatively sturdy rotation has limited the number of bullpen innings. But Angels relievers have a staggering 99 walks in 206 innings, and only four bullpens have a worse K/BB ratio.
Check out the innings, home run and walk totals for some of the team's key relievers:
Kevin Jepsen 25 1/3 innings, 2 homers, 12 walks
Ernesto Frieri 29 1/3 innings, 8 homers, 7 walks
Cam Bedrosian 5 2/3 innings, 1 homer, 7 walks
We're not even halfway through the season and the Angels have already used 18 different relievers in 2014, so they are trying to find solutions, trying various combinations. Joe Smith has helped against right-handed hitters, for sure, and while Mike Morin has not been used in high-leverage situation, he has had good results. But Fernando Salas just went on the 15-day disabled list, and the Angels don't have a left-handed reliever.
Something has to give, and in the weeks ahead, the relief market should be comparatively flush, as teams such as the Cubs (left-hander James Russell?), Padres (closer Huston Street?) and Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler?) sell off their spare parts. Simply put, the Angels need some relief for what appears to be an otherwise dangerous team.
As for Thursday, Frieri simply left the ball up in the zone, as he told reporters after the game. But there were some Mike Scioscia bullpen head-scratchers, writes Mike DiGiovanna. From his story:
"I'm fighting, man, I'm working, watching video, asking questions, but it seems like nothing is going my way," said Frieri, who is 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA and three blown saves in 32 games. "I miss one pitch in every outing, I get hurt. It's crazy. It's frustrating."
Scioscia offered this explanation for starting the 10th inning with Bedrosian rather than Frieri: "Ernie has been struggling a bit, so we wanted to give them a fresh look," Scioscia said. "They haven't seen Bedrock yet. We had confidence he was going to get it done, and if we needed Ernie to bail him out, he was there. In trying to build the back end of our bullpen, Bedrock has a good arm, we feel he can handle it, and he didn't get it done today."
Extra-inning walk-off grand slams, Indians history*
Year Player Opponent Inning
Thursday Nick Swisher Angels 10
1992 Carlos Martinez Mariners 12
1962 Don Dillard Tigers 13
*Source: ESPN Stats & Info
It was a big moment for the Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes. The Indians have a big series with Detroit this weekend, as Terry Pluto writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info on Swisher's homer: Swisher's walk-off grand slam in Cleveland in the 10th inning Thursday gave the Indians 11 wins in their past 12 home games.
Most walk-off wins, 2014 season
White Sox 6
Red Sox 5
#Includes Thursday's win
Around the league
• Hope you got to read Jayson Stark's piece on the developing trade market. As he noted, the Rays' mentality is to try to win, and they put it all together in a shutout of the Astros on Thursday.
• There is a lot of concern and anticipation among the rank and file within the Padres' organization about looming change in light of the team's deep struggles. The Padres are 31-42, with one of the worst offensive showings in history. Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko's foot problems persist, and Yonder Alonso was placed on the disabled list.
• Scott Kazmir continues to be tremendous. He shut down the Red Sox on Thursday and is an All-Star candidate. Meanwhile, Brad Mills, acquired by the A's for $1, is preparing for his first Oakland start.
• The Tigers salvaged the final game of their series against the Royals. Joe Nathan looked much better with his new mechanics.
• This is a great time to be a Royals fan, writes Sam Mellinger.
• On Thursday's podcast, Royals closer Greg Holland talked about going out in public and rarely being noticed -- except when people mention his size and girth -- and Keith Law and I kicked around the back stories behind Clayton Kershaw's curveball and slider.
• The Giants are in the market, evaluating their options, and their recent swoon has fueled these talks. I'll say it again: Jeff Samardzija would be perfect for them in so many ways.
• Bryce Harper looked good in a batting practice session Friday.
• Reds manager Bryan Price was very unhappy with Thursday's loss to Pittsburgh.
• Billy Hamilton continues to make a case for being of the best defensive outfielders in the majors. On Thursday, he had a nice sliding catch and later made a great catch going up against the fence.
• The Blue Jays' lead in the AL East is dwindling: They were swept in Yankee Stadium again, as Ken Fidlin writes, and the team needs upgrades, Richard Griffin writes.
• The Yankees, meanwhile, closed out the series with a lot of speed. The watered-down AL East is there for the taking, Kevin Kernan writes.
• I wrote here recently about Oakland's interest in adding starting pitching to prepare for the possible stress on the rest of the staff. I think there are two sure things before the trade deadline:
1. The Yankees will add a starting pitcher.
2. The Athletics will add a starting pitcher.
• The Red Sox need to start capitalizing on the AL East opportunities.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Cardinals are rationing starting pitcher Michael Wacha's workload.
2. The Mariners are close to signing their No. 1 pick.
Dings and dents
1. Gavin Floyd fractured his elbow after six great innings against the Nationals. Just awful. Here's how it happened. Meanwhile, Alex Wood is progressing quickly at Triple-A.
2. David DeJesus has landed on the disabled list.
3. Gregor Blanco is ready to step in if Angel Pagan need to be placed on the disabled list.
4. Reid Brignac sprained his left ankle.
1. Mets starter Zack Wheeler had a great game Thursday. From ESPN Stats & Info on how he won:
A) Hitters chased 63.6 percent of his pitches out of the zone in two-strike counts, and he struck out a career-high six batters on pitches out of the zone, a career high.
B) He turned up the heat, firing a season-high 59 fastballs of at least 95 mph.
C) Hitters took a season-high 44.4 percent of his first-pitch fastballs for called strikes (8 of 18).
2. The White Sox were taken down by Joe Mauer.
3. Yovani Gallardo was The Man for the Brewers.
4. A 30-year-old made his big league debut and was outstanding.
5. Once again, the Mariners wasted a strong pitching performance. In a related note, it was written here (and elsewhere) before Kendrys Morales signed with the Twins: For $7.5 million, why didn't he wind up back with the Mariners?
6. Andrew Heaney looked great in his debut, as Manny Navarro writes.
7. Houston's losing streak has reached four games.
8. Ryan Howard is on a roll.
9. Russell Martin ended Thursday's game with a walk-off walk.
• Caleb Joseph is enjoying his time in the big leagues.
• Jake Peavy's run of bad luck continued.
• Brad Ausmus sees too much effort in his hitters, and the manager's judgment is being put to the test, writes Bob Wojnowski. There has been a backlash to something he said the other day.
• Jose Abreu rates among the best sluggers.
• Alex Rios is making his 2015 option look like a no-brainer for the Rangers. Meanwhile, the team should be wary about rushing Joey Gallo, writes Evan Grant.
• Reliever Kevin Gregg talked about why he chose the Marlins.
• Joe Torre acknowledged an MLB replay mistake with a statement Thursday, stemming from an overturned call that went against the Pirates on Wednesday. Here's what the statement said:
"[Wednesday] night's play at home plate was one of the most difficult calls that our umpires have faced this season, given that the positioning of the catcher at home plate was necessary to record the force out. After evaluating the play and the details of the review, we recognize that this play was not the type that should have resulted in a violation of Rule 7.13.
The goal of Rule 7.13 is to prevent egregious home plate collisions, and despite how challenging these situations can be, we have made important progress in accomplishing that goal."
This was exactly the right thing to do.
• Shelby Miller was fortunate to escape injury. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny should have joked about the Jonathan Lucroy video, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• It has been mind over matter for Starlin Castro.
• Ryan Braun is about to play in the 1,000th game of his major league career.
• Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter is ranked by Pedro Moura.
• Kirk Gibson deserves a chance to stay, writes Scott Bordow.
• The Rockies are struggling to keep starting pitchers in the game, writes Patrick Saunders.
• A Giants reliever has been dominant, as writes Alex Pavlovic.
• Vanderbilt faces Texas today.
• Tino Martinez will be honored this weekend.
• The Padres will hold a public memorial for Tony Gwynn next Thursday. Here are 19 ways we refused to let Tony Gwynn go this week.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Examining Trout's baserunning 'issue'.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A small smile developed on the face of Los Angeles Angels bench coach Dino Ebel when he was asked about Mike Trout's tendency to make his turn on the bases at something close to a right angle, an indication that this imperfection has been discussed with the game’s best player.
“He’s aware of it,” said Ebel, still smiling. “He has gotten better.”
The path of baserunners moving at full speed through a base will typically follow something of an arc. But Trout tends to get to a base and turn, cutting off the arc; he reaches the bag then moves left. While it’s not a style that Tom Emanski would recommend in instructional videos, it’s much more of a curiosity than a problem, because there’s no evidence that this actually slows him.
“He’s got special talent,” said Ebel, “and he can do it that way.”
Trout said that as a youngster he used to run the bases differently, but when he reached the minors, he worked on reducing the angle of his turn.
No matter what route he takes, opponents and base coaches will hear Trout as he nears a bag, a loud sound that is a combination of Trout breathing like a sprinter and his feet hitting the ground at a high rate of speed beneath his 235 pounds. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez mentioned last weekend that he could hear Trout running from the home dugout in Atlanta, and Angels first-base coach Alfredo Griffin said that when Trout is halfway up the first-base line, his run is at full volume.
“He sounds like somebody’s chasing him,” Griffin said, chuckling.
Ebel said that when he was the Angels’ third-base coach, opposing infielders would glance at him after hearing Trout run for the first time, “with wide eyes. You get a lot of ‘wows’ from shortstops and third basemen.
“It’s a weird noise, a powerful run. This place packs 42,000 [fans] and they are loud, but I can still hear it when he gets closer.”
Trout and the Angels face Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN). Howie Kendrick got a walk-off hit for the Angels against the Rangers on Saturday. Albert Pujols was out of the starting lineup.
Darvish continues to improve
If Darvish stays on schedule, he would likely start the final Sunday before the All-Star break. Otherwise, he would be an excellent candidate to start for the American League, because he is off to the best start in his three seasons in the majors, with a 2.39 ERA in his first 13 outings. He has 109 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 90 1/3 innings, while his approach to getting hitters out has shifted this season.
Darvish has used his fastball much more and relied on his cut fastball and slider less, according to FanGraphs. Last year, he threw his fastball on 38.2 percent of his pitches, and this year, that percentage has rocketed to 57.8 percent.
Chris Gimenez, who has been working as Darvish’s catcher, said the thought is that if the right-hander can get ahead in the count or get outs early in the count, this will enable him to stay in games longer. Rangers manager Ron Washington said, “He needs to establish the fastball.”
In 2013, Darvish averaged 4.10 pitches per plate appearance, the third most in the majors behind Chris Tillman and Shelby Miller. This year, he ranks 64th, at 3.73, a dramatic improvement.
We’ll have more on Darvish in Monday’s column.
Nick Martinez had a good start and lost Saturday's game. Washington was not happy with an umpire’s actions.
Around the league
• On Friday’s podcast, Barry Bonds discussed his friendship and conversations about hitting with Tony Gwynn.
• The director in the Tampa Bay Rays' broadcast truck opted to pan over the scout section Friday night, and they were there, pens in hand, jotting down data, following velocity readings. David Price has made 163 starts in his career, thrown 1,088 2/3 innings and won a Cy Young Award, but general managers want to know the latest intel.
Price had his fourth consecutive start of 10 or more strikeouts in a 3-1 loss to the Astros. In those four outings -- recent starts mattering most to rival scouts and general managers -- he has thrown 31 1/3 innings, walked four and struck out 43, allowing nine earned runs.
[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
David Price continues to post dominant numbers as trade rumors swirl.
His velocity readings continue to tick upward as the season progresses, just as they did last year. While there is talk among folks with other AL East teams that Price’s stuff has flattened out and that his limited range of pitches -- he doesn’t have a great breaking ball -- will be an increasing problem as he ages, a rival evaluator took issue with that in conversation the other day.
“I totally disagree,” he said. “I see his cutter becoming more and more of a weapon. What I’m seeing is a left-hander with a track record of being an ace who is throwing out 10 strikeouts and one walk every start.”
Price will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and some teams have focused on the question of signing him to a long-term deal after next year, along with the cost of prospects to get him now. But the evaluator who spoke of his cutter believes some teams won’t worry about the free agency.
“Because this is a guy you trade for if you want to try to win a World Series,” he said. “You get him for this year and for next year and he makes your team better, and you can match [Price] up against anybody. You worry about the cost of signing him later, and if he walks away, that’s the way it goes. But you’re adding a No. 1 starter who can be a difference-maker for two seasons.”
The Giants are said to like Price a whole lot. The Cardinals certainly would have the prospects to get Price if they devoted themselves to making a trade. They have a surplus in pitching and outfielders, for sure, and could build an offer around Carlos Martinez or Oscar Taveras. The Angels could use Price, although they probably couldn’t match the Cardinals’ offer if St. Louis got aggressive.
One scout suggested that if the Rays want to trade Price, now might be the best time because the pitching market could gain volume in the weeks ahead, creating more flexibility and more options for buyers. The Rays have arguably the best pitcher available in a seller’s market right now.
A Price trade must happen soon, writes Marc Topkin. In the Rays’ clubhouse, the playoffs are still not out of the question.
• The Phillies need to trade left-hander Cole Hamels, writes Bob Brookover.
• Vidal Nuno is the most likely to be replaced in the Yankees’ rotation, and he struggled Saturday.
• Justin Verlander pitched seven strong innings, allowing one earned run, in Detroit’s 5-4 win Saturday, which is a promising performance, writes Drew Sharp.
But that outing won’t answer all the questions about the right-hander. John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information sent along this analysis of Verlander going into Saturday’s start:
Less than 20 percent of the fastballs he’s thrown this season have been 95 mph or faster. In 2009, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting, nearly 75 percent of his fastballs were at least 95 mph, and as recently as 2011 -- when he won the Cy Young and MVP awards -- more than half the fastballs he threw were 95 mph or faster.
In the past five seasons, his total number and rate of fastballs thrown 95 mph or faster have both decreased, from highs of 1,882 and 73.6 percent in 2009 to 644 and 31.3 percent in 2013; he's currently at 175 and 19.4 percent in 2014.
He’s being hit hard up in the strike zone. When you’re not throwing heat, major league hitters will hit fastballs up in the zone. Verlander used to blow hitters away with high heaters.
In 2009, 42 percent of his strikeouts came on fastballs in the upper half of the strike zone or above. It had dropped almost in half by 2011, when he won the MVP and Cy Young awards, but this season, only 16 percent of his strikeouts have come on high fastballs. Back in 2009, he led the majors in strikeouts with 269, and 113 of them were on fastballs up in the zone. That number alone would’ve tied for 59th in the league in strikeouts overall.
His strikeout rate on fastballs in the upper half was 24.4 percent in 2009 and 17.5 percent in his award-winning 2011 season. But this year, only 8.4 percent of the fastballs he throws in the upper half have resulted in strikeouts. Perhaps just as troublesome, more than 12 percent of them result in a walk, easily his highest rate in the past six seasons. Opponents are hitting .297 and slugging .486 against his fastballs in the upper half -- way higher than .200 and .322 in 2011.
Look, every pitcher loses velocity as he gets older and is forced into making adjustments. Verlander is a tremendous athlete who has a lot of weapons from which to choose. Verlander was dominant at the end of last season after fixing flaws in his delivery, and I think he has enough range in his stuff to continue to find ways to win.
Verlander looked good Saturday, as Lynn Henning writes.
• Josh Harrison had another good night at the plate to propel the Pirates.
Even after Neil Walker returns, Harrison needs to play. Someplace.
• The Brewers won with the help of a bizarre play.
Here's the play, a great heads-up effort by Jean Segura.
• The new rule about blocking home plate is maddening, writes Rob Biertempfel.
It’s worth remembering that the primary objective of the rule change is being achieved: Catchers aren’t getting hurt.
• The Yankees honored Tino Martinez on Saturday. The team might want to rethink its immortalization process, writes Tyler Kepner.
Old-Timers’ Day never gets old, writes Mark Herrmann.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Questions loom about whether a Mets minority owner will have to sell his stake in the team.
2. The Red Sox need to call up Mookie Betts, writes John Tomase.
3. Xander Bogaerts was benched for a day.
4. The Tigers prevailed after Joe Nathan blew a save.
5. The White Sox have a lot of needs.
6. A decision against the Diamondbacks paid off for Bruce Bochy.
7. Oakland is likely to keep Brad Mills in its rotation.
Dings and dents
1. Bud Norris was injured during the Orioles’ win Saturday.
2. Norichika Aoki landed on the disabled list, and Justin Maxwell returned.
3. Kolten Wong also landed on the disabled list.
4. Rafael Furcal was injured again.
5. Chase Headley had an epidural.
1. Doug Fister dominated against the Braves. Anthony Rendon is making it look easy.
2. Jacob deGrom had a nice outing, as Kristie Ackert writes.
3. The Red Sox were beaten by a hit in the late innings.
4. Jason Vargas pitched well but the Royals lost.
5. Joe Mauer got another big hit.
6. The White Sox are off to a rough start on a long road trip.
7. The Jays could not come up with a second miracle.
8. Oakland won after a disputed foul tip.
9. Josh Beckett was really good, again.
• Marlon Byrd is embracing a leadership role, writes Marc Narducci.
• The Mets’ choice of Chris Young over Nelson Cruz has not worked out.
• Julio Teheran and Evan Gattis disagreed about pitch selection. Here’s video of the sequence leading to the balk.
• Gattis extended his hit streak to 20 games Saturday, becoming the fourth player since 2001 to have a 20-game hit streak while playing catcher in each of those games.
Longest hit streak while playing catcher since 2001
2003: Jason Kendall, 23
2003: Paul Lo Duca, 23
2003: Victor Martinez, 22
2014: Evan Gattis, 20*
2004: Jason Kendall, 20
*Longest by Braves catcher since 1900
• From ESPN Stats & Information, how Adam Wainwright won Saturday:
A) Threw breaking balls (curveball or slider) on 59.6 percent of his pitches, his fourth-highest rate in the past five seasons
B) Hitters were 1-for-18 with five strikeouts and only one hard-hit ball in at-bats ending with a breaking ball
C) Eighteen outs recorded with breaking balls, the fourth most in a start in the past five seasons (one shy of career high)
• This time, the Reds made eight runs stand up, writes John Erardi.
Billy Hamilton, MLB Career
Stat First 62 Games Past 19 Games
BA .259 .329
OBP .302 .357
SLG .351 .519
SB 32 12
Note: .412 BA, 1.180 OPS, six SB in past seven games
• Billy Hamilton has been on quite a streak as of late, as seen in the chart at right from ESPN Stats & Information.
• Mike Olt is slumping, but the front office still believes in him.
• The Cubs’ struggles in signing Jeff Samardzija will haunt them, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• A Giants rookie made a mistake after being called up, as Henry Schulman writes.
• Age is just a number to LaTroy Hawkins, as Patrick Saunders writes.
• Yasiel Puig intends to keep playing aggressively.
• When J.J. Hardy homered, he got the cold shoulder, as Dan Connolly writes.
• These are the life and times of Omar Vizquel.
• The Twins are emphasizing the right things in their player development, writes Jim Souhan.
• Brad Miller continues to show improvement.
• A private memorial for Tony Gwynn was held Saturday at San Diego State, as Barry Bloom writes.
Brett Butler, who survived cancer, reflected on his tobacco use.
A tobacco ban is not coming any time soon.
• The Padres’ Alex Torres -- a former teammate of Alex Cobb, who was struck by a line drive last year -- became the first pitcher to wear a protective cap. Here’s the video.
• Mike Matheny is frustrated with the replay system, writes Rick Hummel.
• Joey Votto is enjoying his life more on and off the field.
• Scott Boras finally has a Hall of Fame client, writes Tyler Kepner.
• Vanderbilt and Virginia will meet in the College World Series best-of-three final, writes Eric Olson.
And today will be better than yesterday.
The big fix for the next Padres GM.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As folks in the baseball world waited for San Diego Padres GM Josh Byrnes to be fired last week, a rival executive ticked off the performances of San Diego's various position players and noted how Murphy's Law was embedded in the entire lineup. What could go wrong has gone wrong.
Just take a journey around the field, starting at catcher: Yasmani Grandal batted .297 in 60 games in 2012 before being hit by a Biogenesis-related suspension last year. He is hitting .191 with a .643 OPS this season. That ranks last among all players with at least 150 plate appearances at his position.
First baseman Yonder Alonso, who hit .273 in 2012 and .281 in 2013, has hit just .210 this season with a .591 OPS -- last among qualified first basemen in the big leagues.
Second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who hit 23 homers last season, has a .483 OPS this season while battling foot problems. That's last among second basemen with at least 200 plate appearances by a margin of almost 150 points.
Shortstop Everth Cabrera, who is playing his first full season since serving a suspension for being linked to Biogenesis, is hitting .222 with a .561 OPS. That's last among players at his position in the big leagues.
Third baseman Chase Headley has been playing with a herniated disc and is batting .200. He has not come close to replicating his amazing 2012 second half, when he had a .978 OPS and was in the MVP conversation. Headley's OPS this season is not last at his position but is 25th of 28.
Among the outfielders, Cameron Maybin opened the season on the disabled list, Chris Denorfia has a .649 OPS and Will Venable is hitting .204. Seth Smith is a rare success story for the Padres' offense, hitting .286 with a .915 OPS. Carlos Quentin was hurt again at the start of the season, and he's posted just 78 at-bats and a .192 average.
It would be virtually impossible to create a group of players who might fare worse offensively unless you went back in time to find some teams from the dead ball era.
The Padres' ownership -- which did not hire Byrnes in 2010, when he was brought on board by Jeff Moorad, since deposed -- decided not to wait around to see whether this was ridiculously bad luck, the Padres were undercut by a false expectations created by Cabrera's and Grandal's use of performance-enhancing drugs or the offense would turn around.
Rather, the Padres decided that with decisions looming before the July 31 trade deadline -- Huston Street and others may well be traded -- they want to identify the next GM as soon as possible, to make decisions and create a new vision.
Fair? Not when compared to the payrolls and years committed to other general managers. But because Byrnes didn't possess the patronage of his current bosses and because the team's incredibly bad offense had made it unwatchable, his departure had become a matter of when and not if, especially after the Padres set a club record in payroll:
Padres' Opening Day payrolls
During the winter, some rival officials believed that the Padres had put together a team that could have a representative offense. Headley was bound to play better, those executives thought. Cabrera and Grandal would come back from their suspensions and produce. Alonso has long been regarded as a solid major league hitter in the making. Folks with other teams didn't regard Venable or Gyorko as significant stars, but decent players? Absolutely.
But none of them except Smith panned out this year. It's as if Byrnes rolled a pair of dice a dozen times and came up with snake eyes 11 times.
Now the Padres' owners are looking for Byrnes' replacement, and among the names that have been mentioned within the organization are Mike Hazen, assistant GM of the Red Sox; Jason McLeod, now with the Cubs; Billy Eppler, a San Diego product and assistant GM of the Yankees; and David Forst, assistant GM of the Oakland Athletics. The Padres hope to quickly hire a GM -- it helps that they're the only team looking at the moment -- and could look at the Rangers' Thad Levine, the Braves' John Coppolella, Oakland's Farhan Zaidi.
Mike Dee, the Padres' president, talked about what's ahead. From Corey Brock's story:
There had been rumblings and rumors locally that the team was considering changes, either up top with Byrnes or possibly manager Bud Black. Mike Dee, team president and CEO of the Padres, said the Padres will keep Black at least through the end of the season.
"This was a decision that was not made in a day or two or a week or two. The last couple months, we've seen a team we had high expectations for. Those expectations have not been reached," said Dee.
Assistant general managers A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. and Omar Minaya, the senior vice president of baseball operations, will oversee the general manager duties on an interim basis.
Dee said the search for a new general manager "begins immediately." And while Hinch and Minaya will certainly merit consideration, there seems to be a sentiment that the hire will come from the outside -- and, quite possibly, could occur soon.
"I think this is a pretty juicy job for someone who wants to be a general manager," Dee said. "… It will be someone with a near-, mid- and long-term vision of what we want to be as an organization."
Around the league
• The Cardinals have descended into uncertainty after losing Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to injuries -- and Wacha's diagnosis sounds problematic, at the very least. From Rick Hummel's story:
One was not a surprise. Lefthander Jaime Garcia has been there before with elbow and, more often, shoulder troubles and the way he talked -- or didn't talk -- after his latest start Friday smacked loudly of renewed discomfort in his left shoulder, which was operated on last May. Garcia tried to throw a bullpen session Sunday and, in [GM John] Mozeliak's words, "It didn't go well."
The other move, in Mozeliak's words, was "a little shocking." Righthander Michael Wacha, who said he never really had been hurt before, will go on the disabled list with what Mozeliak called a "stress reaction" to his scapula, or the back side of his shoulder. The condition was found on a CT scan and an MRI done a few days ago, Mozeliak said.
"It's disappointing to learn of this," Mozeliak said, "but he's too young and valuable to take risks with. This is not a very common injury to pitchers and one that we don't have a ton of experience on how to deal with it."
• The Jays lost a couple of position players to injury, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie.
• Sonny Gray is being skipped in the Oakland rotation, writes Susan Slusser.
• Matt Shoemaker is 27 years old, and after being undrafted, he is having his first success in the big leagues -- because he's been more refined, in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia, mixing a great splitter and slider with a fastball good enough to beat major league hitters. On Sunday night he beat the Rangers, and after he finished 7 2/3 innings, he did not retreat to the clubhouse; rather, he lingered in the dugout, waiting at the front railing, taking in the final outs. As he waited for a postgame interview, teammates covered him with a bucket of ice and some Gatorade, and he never stopped smiling.
Shoemaker's is one of the best kinds of stories that pop up every year in the majors.
He's won five straight decisions, Joe Resnick writes.
Shoemaker beat Yu Darvish, who struggled terribly with his command and allowed at least four runs for the second straight start -- the first time that's happened to him to August 2012. The Rangers are five games under .500 for the first time since 2008.
• Masahiro Tanaka was really good on Old-Timers' Day but lost.
• Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli hit a homer and stole home in Sunday's game. According to Elias, he's the first Red Sox player to do that since Rico Petrocelli on Sept. 9, 1967.
• The Tigers found their footing with a sweep of the Indians, Drew Sharp writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Tigers starter Max Scherzer won:
A. He threw a changeup on 29 percent of his pitches, his fourth-highest rate in the past five seasons.
B. He recorded five strikeouts with his changeup, tied for his third-most in a game in the past five seasons (tied for most this season).
C. He recorded eight outs with his changeup, tied for a season high.
• Yankees manager Joe Girardi was really angry.
• So was Rangers manager Ron Washington, who had been so angry about the actions of an umpire in Saturday's game that he decided not to take out the lineup card Sunday night -- but wound up being ejected anyway.
• Jason Hammel pitched well. An executive with another team predicts Hammel will make one more start for the Cubs, at most. "Now's the time to move him," the official said.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. A couple of teams are interested in Daniel Murphy, writes Andy Martino.
2. The Yankees need to acquire a starting pitcher, writes Joel Sherman.
3. The Orioles signed Randy Wolf.
4. The Red Sox are not pursuing Matt Kemp, writes Rob Bradford.
5. Andy Dirks and Joel Hanrahan are making progress.
6. Danny Valencia will platoon at third base for the Royals.
7. St. Louis altered its lineup.
Dings and dents
1. Mark Teixeira is relieved his toe isn't broken.
2. Bud Norris hopes to make his next scheduled start.
3. Buck Showalter raved about Dylan Bundy's work Saturday.
4. The Cubs activated Welington Castillo.
5. Rafael Furcal is on the disabled list.
1. A rookie and Madison Bumgarner led the way for the Giants against the Diamondbacks. Bumgarner is 6-1 with a 1.32 ERA in nine road starts this season (3-3, 4.57 ERA at home).
2. David Ortiz hoisted the Red Sox.
3. Brandon Cumpton shut down the Cubs, Jenn Menendez writes.
4. The Royals' offense is struggling again: They were shut down by the Mariners, Andy McCullough writes.
5. The Mariners turned to Fernando Rodney to close out a sweep.
6. The Brewers continue to play great on the road.
7. The Rays' bullpen was strong again.
8. The Rockies are in a steep tailspin.
• Brett Lawrie has evolved.
• Paul Konerko is trying to make the most of his final season, writes Paul Sullivan.
• The Twins locked up a four-game sweep.
• Kurt Suzuki is guiding a resurgence for the Twins.
• Twins GM Terry Ryan has high praise for a prospect.
• The White Sox made history, but not in a good way.
• The Astros are sinking.
• Columnist John McGrath hopes the Mariners don't suffer another summer surprise.
• The Mets have broken out white towels, writes Tim Rohan.
• Two wins made a world of difference for the Nationals, writes Thomas Boswell.
• Cody Asche's confidence is better.
• The Braves are in second place.
• Andrelton Simmons said something nice about a teammate.
• An ugly homestand finally ended for the Marlins.
• Gregory Polanco set a record.
• Jay Bruce can see a payoff coming.
• Todd Frazier should be an All-Star, writes Paul Daugherty. It's worth saying again: Nobody would have more fun at an All-Star Game than Frazier.
• Hal McCoy wrote about Frazier and Joey Votto.
• Kirk Gibson believes Mike Bolsinger has matured.
• Kenley Jansen regained form.
• Wilin Rosario needs to know his role, writes Terry Frei.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Conditions are perfect for a Price trade.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Only the Tampa Bay Rays know for sure what will be deemed acceptable for David Price, or when they'll be ready to say yes. But rival officials are monitoring the market in the way that meteorologists follow weather patterns, and they believe that the Rays are prepared to move the former Cy Young Award winner. As in, right now.
The Rays aren't actually close to trading Price, according to sources. But the climate is right, given Price's impending free agency after 2015 and Tampa Bay's shockingly poor play this season. The Rays' loss Monday pushed them to 12 games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East, and they are 10½ games behind in the race for the second wild card -- stunning, given the consistency of Tampa Bay's success in the past six seasons. From 2008 to 2013, the Rays averaged 91-plus wins per season, reaching the playoffs four times.
But the Rays would have to go 60-24 the rest of the season in order to achieve 91 wins, and given the loss of Matt Moore and the struggles of the rotation (19th in ERA), Evan Longoria, Wil Myers and others, there is little reason to believe Tampa Bay is poised for that kind of turnaround.
And now, Price is back to throwing the ball at a star-caliber: He has 43 strikeouts and four walks in 31S innings, with nine earned runs allowed. His velocity is climbing: In his first six starts, his average fastball velocity didn't reach 93 mph, but in five of his past eight starts, his average velocity has been 93.4 mph or higher. With Price healthy and pitching well, it makes sense for the Rays to move him while they can, rather than repeatedly absorbing the inherent risk of injury with each of his starts. The Cubs, for example, had intended to trade Matt Garza in summer 2012, but he was hurt before the July 31 deadline, and they had to wait another year to make a deal.
The expectation of rival officials is that sometime in the days ahead, some team is going to call Rays general manager Andrew Friedman with the right offer, with enough pitching included to fill Tampa Bay's organizational need. Casual fans tend to believe that Tampa Bay's strength is drafting and developing, but the Rays actually have done their best work in making trades.
Maybe it'll be the San Francisco Giants, who have good minor league pitching. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have attractive trade targets in prospects such as shortstop Corey Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson. Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals, who just lost two starting pitchers to the disabled list and have a large menu of outfielder and pitching prospects to dangle.
The forecast of rival evaluators: The conditions are almost perfect for a David Price trade. Right now.
Around the league
• Jeff Samardzija, the other elite starting pitcher available, had another good outing Monday.
Respect for the players' union plays a role in Samardzija's contract talks, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• The Cardinals aren't going to panic, writes Bryan Burwell.
St. Louis is going to promote a pitcher to face the Rockies this week, writes Derrick Goold.
Michael Wacha's injury is alarming, writes Bernie Miklasz. These injuries increase the likelihood of a St. Louis trade, Bernie writes.
• With the Rockies in a steep spiral, the odds may increase that Jorge De La Rosa will be a good second-tier candidate in the starting pitcher trade market, joining the likes of Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy. The Colorado left-hander's surface numbers are pedestrian -- a 4.75 ERA in 15 starts -- but the first thing every rival GM is checking is his home/road splits, and they are somewhat intriguing. He's actually fared worse in road games, with a 5.85 ERA, than at home (3.58). Only three starters in the big leagues have a worse walk rate than De La Rosa, but he's 17th in ground ball percentage.
He's 33 years old, and while the Rockies could theoretically hang onto him with a qualifying offer, that may be a stretch for a team with a payroll just shy of $100 million.
• The Tigers have chips to bargain as the trade deadline nears, writes Lynn Henning.
• Tim Kurkjian ran the sausage race in Milwaukee and his pre-race prediction turned out to be dead on.
• On Monday's podcast, Pirates legend Dave Parker discussed his career, and Jerry Crasnick talked about San Diego's change in general managers.
• I liked the captain picks for the Home Run Derby -- Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista. In working the American League side in the Derby the last few years, it's evident by Bautista's preparation how seriously he takes the event. Hopefully, Bautista will call Mike Trout and ask him to participate. This would be like having Michael Jordan in the dunk contest: He's the best player in the sport and if he's willing, it would be great for the event.
As for the All-Star Game: It would be a bummer if Masahiro Tanaka doesn't start the game, writes John Harper. I agree completely -- but as Joel Sherman writes, the Yankees have their own agenda with this.
• Billy Eppler, the assistant general manager for the New York Yankees, is well respected within the sport and is regarded as a serious candidate for the Padres' GM job. He grew up in San Diego as a fan of the Padres and Tony Gwynn, which won't be a primary consideration but may well be something that works in his favor; he knows the franchise and taking the job with the Padres would mean going home for him.
The Padres needed a good outing and they got one. Odrisamer Despaigne became the fourth pitcher in Padres history to throw seven scoreless innings in his major league debut.
A replay review went against the Padres, and I don't blame Bud Black for being upset how the replay center placed Seth Smith on third base. He would've scored easily on this long hit by Yasmani Grandal.
• The Cardinals have major pitching concerns, with Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia going down, but Lance Lynn was excellent Monday, winning in Colorado.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how he won:
A) Forced hitters to swing and miss on 31.4 percent of their swings, his second-highest miss percentage of the season.
B) Right-handed hitters were 0-for-17, the first time this season he did not allow a hit to a righty.
C) He threw a season-low three pitches with a three-ball count.
• Seattle is within 1 1/2 games of second place in the AL West after thumping the Red Sox with a burst of runs. More power and more hitting could make this a season to remember for the Mariners, writes Larry Stone.
• The Orioles may be the most dangerous AL East team, given their overall talent, and they had a great win Monday, when Chris Davis hit a walk-off pinch-hit three-run homer.
From Elias: Davis joins Jim Thome and Mickey Mantle as the only players in the last 50 years to hit a pinch-hit walk-off home after previously hitting 50 home runs in a season in their career.
• Few players are as respected within the sport as Dustin Pedroia for the consistent ferocity with which he plays. Some rival evaluators wonder if Pedroia -- who plays through some injuries that we know about and others that we never know about -- is wearing down.
Justin Havens of ESPN Research sent along this analysis of Dustin Pedroia:
Last season, Pedroia battled through a thumb injury for essentially the entire year, and it showed in the power department -- his .415 slugging percentage was the lowest in any season in which he received 100 plate appearances. Whether he's dealing with an injury yet again is unknown, but the slide in production has continued -- entering Monday's action, Pedroia's batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.381) would all be career-worsts. This continued downturn comes in the first year of his eight-year, $110M extension that keeps him in Boston through 2021.
Further, Pedroia is putting fewer balls in the air while seeing fewer of the balls he does hit in the air turn into home runs. His slugging percentage on fly balls has dropped from .630 from 2011-12 to .485 since the start of last season.
Pitchers are becoming increasingly comfortable pounding the strike zone against Pedroia. In fact, no batter has seen a higher rate of pitches in the strike zone this season than Pedroia.
1. Dustin Pedroia, BOS: 56.6 percent
2. J.J. Hardy, BAL: 56.0 percent
3. Dee Gordon, LAD: 55.8 percent
4. B.J. Upton, ATL: 55.3 percent
MLB average: 49.0%
1. The Red Sox were wiped out in Seattle.
2. Devin Mesoraco is on a serious roll.
3. The Jays played without Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista, but won.
4. Matt Cain was hit hard, and he's now 1-6 with a 4.82 ERA, as John Shea writes. I've always thought of Cain as a work-fast, throw-strikes pitcher, but his pace on the mound has dropped markedly, in how much time he takes between pitches.
5. The Rockies have lost seven games in a row.
6. Chase Whitley had a tough inning.
7. Gio Gonzalez had a nice outing.
8. Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen got it done.
9. Jarrod Dyson had a good night as the Royals ended a losing streak.
10. Chris Sale threw well, but the White Sox's bullpen blew it.
11. The Marlins' pitching dominated.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Felix Doubront could be trade bait.
2. Clay Buchholz is likely to take the mound Wednesday for Boston.
3. Chris Young may be cut by the Mets, writes Adam Rubin.
4. Ryan Zimmerman took grounders at third base.
5. Torii Hunter is willing to take a lesser role if the Tigers keep winning.
Dings and dents
1. Dylan Bundy's next rehab start could be in Double-A, says Dan Duquette.
2. Neil Walker is set to return to the Pirates' lineup.
3. Brett Lawrie landed on the disabled list.
4. Carlos Correa is going to miss a significant amount of time.
• Tony La Russa is still learning on the job, as Nick Piecoro writes.
• Zack Greinke was back in Kansas City and was booed during his loss, as Bill Shaikin writes. From the piece:
Might the fans have booed out of spite, since the Dodgers play in an economic league in which the Royals cannot hope to compete?
"I don't know," Greinke said. "I was pretty rude on the way out. They have every right to be mad at me."
"I didn't want to be rude," he said. "I felt I had to in order to get traded, and I wanted to get traded."
• Billy Hamilton may be the best center fielder in the majors.
• Aramis Ramirez has moved into first place in the All-Star voting.
• The Phillies' offense: Not good.
• Jimmy Rollins was honored.
• The division race might give the Marlins their best shot at the playoffs.
• Luis Avilan perseveres, writes Erica Hernandez.
• From Elias: Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season, the fourth-most HRhomers for a rookie before the All-Star break since 1933, which was the year of the first All-Star Game.
1987 Mark McGwire: 33
1950 Al Rosen: 25
1986 Jose Canseco: 23
2014 Jose Abreu: 22
• The Royals are used to dealing with ups and downs, writes Sam Mellinger.
• Cleveland has taken a different approach than Oakland, writes Paul Hoynes.
• Mike Berardino writes about a Twins prospect who could be headed for the Futures Game.
• Stephen Vogt is making a strong case to stay.
• Billy Beane learned the numbers game from Sandy Alderson.
• The Rangers are exploring the trade market.
• Kevin Jepsen wants an extended stay at the back end of the Angels' bullpen.
• The Giants paid tribute to Tony Gwynn, as mentioned within this John Shea article.
• By all accounts, the service for Richard Durrett was moving.
• Derek Jeter turns 40 on Thursday, as Bob Klapisch writes.
• Boston's official scorer reversed a decision and David Ortiz picked up points on his batting average.
• Vanderbilt plays for the first men's NCAA championship in any sport tonight, after winning Monday with a big inning.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Top 10 fantasy baseball prospects.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the Philadelphia Phillies traded right-hander Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that saw them acquire center fielder Ben Revere two winters ago, it was thought by many to be a steep price to pay, as the right-hander was one of the system's best starting pitching prospects. Because Philadelphia's rotation was considered essentially infallible for the next few seasons, it was a somewhat understandable risk to acquire a center fielder of the future.
While Revere hasn't been terrible in his time with the Phillies, it's safe to say that if Trevor May shows a semblance of the stuff he has for Triple-A Rochester this year, the Twins will come out the winners in that deal.
"He's improved quite a bit," an NL scout said. "There's always been talent in his right arm, but you always saw a guy who was more projection than finished product. I wouldn't say he's finished developing by any stretch of the imagination, but I've seen him twice this year, and each time I've come away saying that is a guy who can get big league hitters out right now. He's a legit mid-rotation talent, in my opinion."
[+] EnlargeTrevor May
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
Trevor May is 8-4, with a 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 81 strikeouts for the Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A) this season.
Since the Phillies drafted May in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, the right-hander out of Kelso (Washington) High School has always caused scouts to salivate with his arm strength, and although not overpowering, his fastball sits in the low 90s and will touch 95.
The big improvements for May, however, are the secondary pitches. His change has always been his best off-speed offering, but it showed massive improvement in the Arizona Fall League, and it's now an above-average pitch with fade and deception from arm speed. Both his curveball and slider have shown improvement, and look to be at least average pitches at the next level, though he still needs to show more consistency with both pitches. That's a far cry from 2013, however, when one scout told me he would grade his pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale as a 60 fastball, 50 change and two 40 breaking balls.
That improved stuff has allowed May to be among the best starters in the International League, and though he didn't get off to the hottest of starts -- his ERA was 4.97 after his first six appearances -- he's been borderline dominant since mid-May, including a stretch of starts when he went 26 innings without giving up a run. His best start of the year might have been this past Monday against Pawtucket, however, as May struck out 11 in 8 1/3 innings while giving up just one run and three hits.
"That was an impressive outing," an AL East scout said. "Pawtucket's lineup isn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, but there are big league players in it and he made a few of those guys look foolish. He commanded the fastball well, and there were a couple of changeups that he pulled the string on that I would call plus-plus. If you can do that consistently, you're going to be a quality big leaguer for a long time."
There's still work to be done for May -- particularly with the command -- and he's never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but as a pitcher with three quality pitches and an idea of how to miss bats, he could be a quality pickup for your fantasy team for 2014 if/when the Twins decide to promote him at some point around the trade deadline.
Not only do we have three "new" names for the top 10 this week, we have a brand new top two as well. Let's get into it.
1. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 1-3, 2.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 18 BB, 44 K's in 42 1/3 innings (ten starts) at Double-A Jacksonville; 3-1, 2.74 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7 BB, 16 K's in 23 innings (four starts) at Baltimore
Progress report: I'm as surprised to see Gausman back in the minor leagues as you are, but in actuality, this is a somewhat brilliant move by the Orioles to take advantage of the 26-man rule for doubleheaders; guess what team has a doubleheader on Friday? I debated leaving Gausman off the list as his inclusion is really a technicality, but if his owner in your league was foolish enough to drop the right-hander out of frustration/lack of awareness, take advantage of it and pick him up right now.
2. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox (Last week: 3)
2014 stats: .355/.443/.551, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB at Double-A Portland; .319/.402/.472, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 5 SB at Triple-A Pawtucket
Progress report: Now that's a bit more like it. Betts was outstanding this past week, hitting .366/.422/.561 with five extra-base hits and five stolen bases for good measure. The reports on his defense in the outfield have been positive, for the most part, and with Jackie Bradley Jr. still struggling with the bat, it's tough to imagine that Boston doesn't give him a chance to hit at the top of the order soon, even with Shane Victorino likely to make his return to the lineup in the next few weeks.
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Last week: 1)
2014 stats: .308/.357/.498 8 HR, 47 RBIs, 1 SB at Triple-A Memphis; .189/.225/.297, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB at St. Louis
Progress report: The month of June has not been kind to Taveras, and if you count his time with St. Louis, the outfielder is hitting just .194 with just four extra-base hits since the start of the month. During that same time frame, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .216, so there's obviously been some bad luck for the left-handed hitting outfielder as well. I still think Taveras is going to be a major factor for the Cardinals this season, but it may take an injury or trade to see him up before the trade deadline.
4. Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Last week: 4)
2014 stats: 8-2, 1.79 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 27 BB, 96 K's in 90 1/3 innings (13 starts) at Triple-A Nashville; 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3 BB, 6 K's in 5 and 2/3 innings pitched (1 start) at Milwaukee
Progress report: Nelson had arguably his worst two starts of the season this past week, but at his worst, Nelson is still missing bats and limiting damage, and his 3.64 ERA in his past 12 innings isn't exactly getting clobbered; it's just that we've come to expect the right-hander to be dominant in every outing. Meanwhile, Marco Estrada continues to struggle, and the only explanation for him staying in the rotation when you have a legitimate replacement like Nelson sitting in the minor leagues is ... well, I've got nothing. The Brewers are playing well, but there are three quality teams in the division that are all within striking distance, and every start that Estrada makes and Nelson doesn't is a mistake at this point. I can't imagine they'll keep making this mistake through the end of the month.
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Last week: 5)
2014 stats: 0-0, 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1 BB, 7 K's in four innings (one start) at High-A High Desert; 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1 BB, 10 K's in five innings (one start) at Double-A Jackson; 1-1, 5.82 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9 BB, 21 K's in 21 2/3 innings (five starts) at Triple-A Tacoma
Progress report: After having arguably his best outing since he was activated from the disabled list, Walker struggled Thursday in Colorado Springs, giving up six runs on seven hits over five innings of work, while walking one and striking out four. The stats are somewhat arbitrary, though, as the most important thing is that Walker has looked healthy and has thrown strikes over his past few games, and with the Mariners (somehow) in contention for the playoffs, it'd be a surprise if he's not a part of their rotation before the summer ends.
6. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last week: 6)
2014 stats: .323/.447/.592, 17 HR, 42 RBIs, 19 SB at Triple-A Albuquerque
Progress report: The overall numbers are still fantastic -- and he's still getting on base at a ridiculous rate -- but as weird as it is to type, Pederson is currently going through a borderline power drought. He's hit just two homers in the month of June, and he hasn't hit a double in nearly three weeks. Some of this is undoubtedly due to his being pitched around as much as any hitter in minor league baseball, but Pederson is still getting pitches to hit and simply hasn't connected the way he did in the previous months. It may seem like nitpicking, but he needs to show that plus power again if he's to stay on this list.
7. Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 1-0, 2.10 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6 BB, 35 K's in 30 innings (six starts) at Double-A San Antonio; 4-4, 6.04 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 17 BB, 34 K's in 44 2/3 innings pitched (nine starts) at Triple-A El Paso
Progress report: No, the overall numbers aren't impressive; but since May 26, Wisler has an ERA of 2.87 and has limited hitters to a .579 OPS in that time frame as well. We still haven't seen the plus command that he showed in Double-A, but the walk totals are dropping, and the fastball and change are still flashing as plus pitches. Eric Stultz has been among the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball, and there are rumors that Ian Kennedy could be trade bait for the struggling Padres, and if either one is moved/demoted; Wisler has a chance to be that pitcher's replacement. The new GM -- whoever it is that is tapped to take over for the ousted Josh Byrnes -- has some very interesting decisions to make.
8. Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Last week:
2014 stats: 1-7, 3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 25 BB, 54 K's in 71 innings (12 starts) at Double-A Altoona; 0-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 1 BB, 10 K's in 14 innings (two starts) at Triple-A Indianapolis
Progress report: Maybe there's something in the water in Indianapolis. Kingham had another quality start on Wednesday against Gwinnett, though this time he needed a little more help from the defense than last week (two strikeouts in seven innings compared to eight in his Triple-A debut). The Pirates are playing better, but three-fifths of their current rotation (Edinson Volquez, Brandon Cumpton, Francisco Liriano) currently have an ERA above 4.67; of that trio, only Liriano is missing bats. A few more starts like this for Kingham and Pittsburgh should give the right-hander a chance to see whether he can add a little more consistency to a team that should be aiming for the playoffs.
9. Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 7-3, 3.77 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 20 BB, 68 K's in 74 innings (14 starts) at Double-A Tulsa
Progress report: I've been hesitant to put Gray in this spot, which may seem a bit hypocritical since I've had fellow 2013 draft pick Kris Bryant on this list all year, but I couldn't "avoid" his inclusion anymore. He's missing bats at a solid -- if unspectacular -- level, and the command has seen significant improvement over the past month. The Rockies' rotation is a bit of a mess outside of Jordan Lyles (can't say I ever thought I'd be typing that sentence), and as long as Gray can keep the ball below the knees, his plus-plus fastball and slider will play well in any stadium, including Coors Field.
10. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (Last week: 10)
2014 stats: .355/.458/.709, 22 HR, 57 RBIs, 8 SB at Double-A Tennessee; .188/.188/.750, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB at Triple-A Iowa
Progress report: Welcome to Iowa, Mr. Bryant. We've been expecting you. It wasn't a great first three games for the slugger in the PCL, as he struck out seven times in his first 12 at-bats, but we'll chalk that up to the fact that no hitter can keep doing what Bryant was doing over the past two months; he sure looked good on Sunday, however, hitting two home runs. If he puts up numbers in Iowa that even remotely look like the numbers he put up in Tennessee, he'll be a member of the Cubs' lineup before the season is over, and I really do think that's a possibility.
Called up: Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
Dropped off: Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins; Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Houston Astros
Also considered: Javier Baez, SS, Cubs; Trevor May, RHP, Twins; Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Bundy close to pre-surgery form.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Dylan Bundy -- the No. 31 prospect on my Top 100 in January -- is still not quite a full 12 months off Tommy John surgery (he had the operation on June 27, 2013), but made his second rehab start on Saturday night at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, throwing five quick innings and showing he's close to pre-surgery form, but not all the way there yet.
Bundy faced 17 batters over five innings, striking out nine and walking just one while allowing two hits, both well-struck but going to the opposite field. He was pitching 90 to 94 mph all night, with some downhill plane and a little tailing life to it even at 93, although I noticed he rushed his arm on many of the fastballs at the higher end of the range. He also threw at least one true cutter at 91 mph, the first pitch of the third inning, and I think he cut a few others over the course of his outing, just not as prominently.
Roughly 80 percent of Bundy's 64 pitches (48 strikes) on the evening were fastballs, but he did mix in a few straight changeups at 86-87 and at least seven curveballs, three of which punched out hitters. The curveball was at 73-75 mph, nearly 12/6 with good depth, and he threw it for strikes aside from one he shanked at 76 right into the dirt. He threw just one off-speed pitch in the first inning, but increased the mix as the game went on because he seemed to need that extra effort to dial up the fastball, and in the process lost some command of the pitch.
Bundy is back pitching in games earlier than most pitchers who've had ligament transplant surgery, which is the result of a quick rehab with no real setbacks; this is also the most likely explanation for the slightly reduced velocity and command he showed on Friday. His delivery was pretty similar to how it was before the injury, perhaps a slightly more pronounced downward stab in the back but nothing significant. I don't think he's close to ready in terms of helping the major league team as a starter. But, I could see him in the Baltimore Orioles' pen in September or going to the Arizona Fall League to help him build up some more innings and stamina before shutting it down for the winter.
• The Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets affiliate) started one of their better prospects, right-hander Marcos Molina, who boasts above-average stuff with a below-average delivery. Molina's pitches hit 88-94 with 55 life (on the 20-80 scouting scale) on the pitch, mostly sinking it due to his low arm slot, but cutting a few pitches up to 92 mph. Of the 19 balls Aberdeen put in play, 12 were on the ground (two popups, five flyballs/lineouts), and nearly all were off the fastball. His changeup is hard at 84-86, but has some pronounced fade to it, while he tended to get on the side of the 78-79 mph slider but showed a few with tilt.
Molina's delivery, however, makes it very hard to project him as a starter; it reminds me most of Tyson Ross', a low-slot slinging arm action with nearly all of the force coming from his shoulder rather than his lower half. He pronates his arm late and pauses just before his front leg lands, so to generate all that arm speed (and it is fast) he has to use his upper half more than you'd like. It's not impossible for a pitcher with this kind of slot and delivery to be a starter -- Chris Sale and Justin Masterson do it, and Aaron Nola is similar too -- but most guys who do so use their hips and legs more than Molina does. I could see success as a starter in the low minors, but this is going to be a tough delivery to repeat while staying healthy in a rotation.
• Shortstop Amed Rosario didn't start for Brooklyn, coming in as a pinch hitter and sticking around for two at-bats. He grounded out to second and lined into a 4-3 double play with the bases loaded, both times clearly trying to take the right-handed pitcher the other way, making good contact the second time but hitting it right at the fielder. He had one tough play at short, coming across and in front of the bag for a tough 6-3 putout, and showed 55 running speed on the one groundout. I'll try to see him again later this summer.
• The only serious position player prospect on Aberdeen's roster was catcher Jonah Heim, who didn't have a great night, struggling behind the plate and in the box. Heim had trouble blocking balls in the first and was consistently over two seconds on throws, one of those coming because he couldn't get the ball out of his glove. He did have one hit, lining a changeup for a single to right field while hitting left-handed. He's not built like a catcher, tall and lean with a narrow waist, but looks like he'd be athletic enough to move around the outfield if the bat will play out there.
Padres' firing of Byrnes was overdue.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The San Diego Padres' decision to relieve Josh Byrnes of his duties as general manager is unsurprising, and was probably overdue, given the team's poor performance at the major league level and lack of production from young players, especially those acquired in trades or handed long-term contracts. The move, by itself, solves no problem, however. The Padres need to hire the right successor, a GM who has experience in scouting and player development, because there is no way a team with the Padres' low payroll can succeed without a productive farm system and coming out even or ahead in trades.
Byrnes struck out in the trade market more than once, and he has been stung by long-term deals -- some of them appearing to be smart at the time -- to players who subsequently got hurt or just weren't good afterward. The trades can be more galling to ownership or fans, because a player you used to have is now producing for another club -- often a rival. The deal that sent Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds, for example, netted the Padres four young players, but none of those four were projected to be stars as Latos was. It was quality for quantity, and Latos has produced more WAR on his own than the four players San Diego acquired for him, and two of them are no longer with the team. Yasmani Grandal appeared to be the gem coming back to the Padres, but a PED suspension and miserable performances since 2012 have made him a de-facto backup catcher, while Yonder Alonso's above-average but not-plus power was always a bad fit for Petco Park.
The other trade appeared as recently as last year to be tipping the Padres' way, although at the time it was originally struck it looked like a loss for the team: Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner. Cashner can pitch like an ace when healthy, but 2013 was the only season in his pro career when he topped 110 innings, and he has missed time again this year while seeing his strikeout rate dive (when he has been able to take the mound). Meanwhile, Rizzo is starting to look like the next Joey Votto, hitting .278/.400/.506, on pace to draw 100 walks with more than 30 homers. While Rizzo might also fit the category of a player whose power won't play as well in Petco, the Padres didn't get an adequate return for him at the time. While Byrnes has made other trades that worked out better for the team -– acquiring Seth Smith for Luke Gregerson, picking up Ian Kennedy because Kevin Towers decided to give the guy away -– those two deals were his biggest ones when they were made, and Rizzo and Latos are the two highest-profile players he's traded away.
On the contracts front, Byrnes has handed out several long-term deals that turned to vinegar shortly after they were signed. Cory Luebke made five starts after he signed a deal that guaranteed him $12 million, blew out his elbow, and hasn't pitched in more than 24 months. Jedd Gyorko signed a deal this spring that guarantees him $35 million, and he was the worst-hitting position player in the NL before he went on the DL earlier this month. (The worst qualifying position player in the NL now, by the offensive statistic wOBA, is Padres SS Everth Cabrera; third-worst is Alonso.) Cameron Maybin signed what appeared to be a club-friendly $25 million extension after his breakout 2011 season, but he regressed badly at the plate in 2012 and missed nearly all of 2013 due to injury. The Padres traded two spare parts for Carlos Quentin, a strong deal on its face, but gave the natural DH a four-year extension that negated the producer surplus they'd spotted when acquiring him. He has been adequate for the past two years, handing back about a half a win a year on defense, but has been below replacement-level this season. Even the one-year gamble on Josh Johnson didn't work out: It has been $8 million that returns nothing, although everyone had to know going in that he was an all-or-nothing investment.
The Padres' organization was my No. 1 system going into 2012, Byrnes' first year as GM, which reflected the Latos trade but was otherwise the product of the previous regime's work in the draft, trades and Latin America. Some of those players have reached the majors, including Gyorko, Robbie Erlin and Casey Kelly; others are still on their way, including the resurgent Joe Ross and top prospect Austin Hedges, while many have gotten hurt. Along with Luebke, Kelly, Rymer Liriano and Joe Wieland all blew out their elbows, while Erlin is currently out with elbow soreness. The Padres actually had strong drafts in 2012 and 2013, but none of those players has come close to the majors yet, with their first pick in '12, Max Fried, out the whole year thus far with a forearm strain, and Hunter Renfroe, their first pick from last year, racing to Double-A last week.
The combination of stalled development from some of those key young players, including Gyorko and Grandal, and the rash of injuries that decimated the depth their system had going into 2012 has killed the Padres over the past two seasons. They're never going to be active in the pricey end of the free-agent pool, so they must grow their own core talent, or trade for it. The first job for the new GM, therefore, will be to do something Byrnes should have done two years ago: Trade Chase Headley.
Beyond that, however, the job is going to entail getting back to baseball basics: Draft well and develop better. The Padres did the former just fine under VP Chad Macdonald and scouting director Billy Gasparino, but the development of the previous administration's prospects fell short. The new regime will also inherit a fairly full cupboard, so turning those players into productive assets while avoiding Byrnes' major league mistakes is the challenge facing his successor.